Like Banding a Toothpick!
Talking With Sarah Driver, Hummingbird Bander

Clouds of Hummers

Sarah Driver bands a Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Sarah Driver bands a Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Sarah Driver's hummingbirds come to Ozark, Missouri the first week of April. They stay through the first or second week in October. She bands hummers throughout those months, whenever she can take time from her job as a nurse. Sarah says, "I often see 100 birds at a time; I have 30 feeders out and use three gallons of sugar water a day at peak season. I have hummers all summer, and I can see a couple dozen at a time. But the first or second week in August the numbers just explode. It's unbelievable. Hummers are here in clouds, just like swarms of bees."

First Step: Trapping
Clouds of hummers make Sarah's job easier, because the first step in banding is to trap the hummers. Sarah tells how she does it. "We have a special trap we catch hummers in. Banders use several styles of traps. Ours is shaped like circus tent with a feeder inside, and it's covered with a curtain of fine netting. We can raise and lower the curtain with a fishing line. The hummer flies in and we drop the curtain. I've caught up to 7 or 8 hummers at a time. The curtain traps the bird inside. Then we come to the trap and reach our arm in through a slit in the curtain. We gently grab the hummer and take it out of the trap. I have a little square piece of cloth with a hole in the center. I call it a nightshirt. I put this little night shirt on the bird and that's my way of detaining it. My great uncle taught me this technique. I hold the hummer on its back with its little feet sticking up."

Like Banding a Toothpick
"Banding a hummer," says Sarah, is like "banding a toothpick." The USFWS Bird Banding Laboratory supplies banders with lightweight aluminum bands. Each band is stamped with one letter and five numbers. Sarah cuts and pre-forms them from the flat sheet of bands sent by the bird banding lab. Sarah uses special band-making equipment to cut and form each band. "After cutting the bands, I lay them all out in numbered order. It's a big job to form such tiny strips into semicircles. I slip the band on the hummer's leg and crimp with a pliers." Sarah uses a needle-nose pliers with a little round hole in the tip so the band can be closed without flattening it. The band must be loose enough to turn, but small enough so it won't fall off. Not easy on a leg the size of a toothpick!

"I make sure the band turns. Then I have a sheet to fill out for the lab: date, location, male or female, adult or juvenile, and the banding number. That's all the lab wants."

All Done!
After Sarah records the banding information, she takes the little night shirt off and releases the hummer. "Often we'll give them a little drink from a feeder on the table for their cooperation in the banding." How long does it take? "I can have this done within a couple minutes. It doesn't stress the birds terribly. I know because I've had the same bird I just banded show up in the trap a few minutes later! Banding is just a minor inconvenience for them."

Becoming a Master Bander
Sarah was trained in bird banding by her great uncle James Johnson. He was a master bander. As a child, Sarah watched how he trapped and banded birds. "To be a master bander you have to first be a sub-permitee, banding under a master bander until that master feels you are competent to be a master. When you submit for a master license, the master bander has to recommend you." Sarah learned as her uncle's sub-permittee. She got her permit through him in 1986. "Even then," says Sarah, "the bird banding laboratory doesn't automatically give you a master license. They are hesitant to give out too many permits."

Permits are issued by the USFWS. Banding hummers is very specialized because these birds are so tiny. Master banders trap and band the birds, then mail all their data to the US Geological Survey at the USFWS Bird Banding Laboratory in Laurel, MD. The bird banding laboratory has fewer than 50 master hummingbird banders in the US. Can you see why?

Try This! Journaling Question

What qualities are important for a hummingbird bander? Think about Sarah's story. Look for clues when you visit the Websites of other banders of ruby-throated hummingbirds:

1. Bob & Martha Sargent
2. Bill Hilton Jr. 
3. Stacy Jon Peterson 
4. Allen Chartier
5. Cindy Cartwright
6. Lanny Chambers